How to introduce sortition in policy-making without constitutional change

The salient feature of modern democracy is that those who wield legislative and administrative power are chosen by popular vote in open competition between candidates. In practice the candidates generally present themselves as representatives of a party with a distinct ideological emphasis. Some voters who share a particular ideological position will normally support the same party, though they may disagree on many matters of policy. Others, less ideologically committed, are “swinging voters”, taking a more pragmatic view of which party to support. In either case, voters are constrained to chose between packages of personalities, policies and promises. The processes by which the parties arrive at these packages are not very transparent and are widely distrusted. For good reason, as I shall attempt to explain.

The alternative I propose is that the policies we adopt in any specific sphere of public decision-making should be determined by bodies that are statistically representative of those most directly affected by what happens in that sphere. These bodies would have no formal constitutional status. They would depend for their authority on community recognition. We would constrain our elected representatives to activate those decisions in legislation and administration on penalty of not being elected or re-elected.

Instead of being consumers faced with a choice between packages over whose contents we have little influence, we forfeit any attempt to impose an ideological flavour on the whole range of public decisions and concentrate on getting sound decisions in those matters that affect us most. The focus of these bodies would be on specific problem areas. There would be no attempt to prescribe for every possible eventuality. The whole would be treated as an ecosystem that mostly looks after itself, as various interactions adapt to eacn other. It is far too complex and unpredictable to be planned, but its stability and development are constantly being threatened by various human activities that may need to be regulated or eliminated.

These threats often give rise to vigorous discussion, which is usually confusing, because there is no institution that has the authority to focus discussion and draw a practical policy decision from it. Governments are seen increasingly as making policy, not on the basis of the merits of the case, but as the tactical necessities of the struggle for power dictate. These are a mixture of the careerist ambitions of politicians, factional deals, the power of financial supporters, the disproportionate power of key groups of voters and what can be “sold” by deceptive advertising.

The following questions arise:

  1. What would these bodies be expected to achieve that our present practices don’t?
  2. How are these policy bodies to be set up and their membership appointed? Why accept such arrangements.
  3. How would they operate?
  4. What reason have we to think they would make good decisions and that those decisions would be accepted as authoritative?
  5. How can such decentralised policy-making be reconciled with the need for centralised authority to coordinate policies in different areas?


Question 1. Our present practices construct a package that is supposed to cover all public concerns. These packages are developed by parties seeking the electoral support that will give them administrative and legislative power.

Parties typically consist of politicians who have to appeal to different constituencies in which different concerns often prevail. One means for arriving at a compromise on such differences is by trading support, as when I vote for you on some issue I care little about and you reciprocate by voting for me on what I do care about. The result is that policies on many matters are determined not on the merits of the case but on deals that reflect the power strategies of politicians. Their dependence on small pockets of voters and financial supporters often ensures that certain difficult questions are not even raised and those that are raised are presented in ways that obscure what is at stake.

By contrast, if the group of people making a decision on a particular issue have as their dominant interest getting the best possible compromise on the issue taken in isolation from other issues, they have to reach a compromise between the conflicting considerations that impinge on the issue. They have to negotiate with each other, attempting to offer each other a compromise that will be as attractive as possible to them for least cost to their own concerns. Assuming that they are working with a fixed budget and under the need to convince public opinion of the soundness of their decision, they will need to be sure they have addressed all the relevant considerations that influence public opinion on the matter.

Question 2. Such bodies would be set up in the first instance by a foundation dedicated to identifying issues where better decisions are needed. Such a foundation would design and explain the formula on which a sample affected would be chosen, blind to every other characteristic. It would offer the support that the representatives need in acquiring relevant information, stimulating public discussion and consulting appropriate experts. It would cover their expenses. The hope would be that once the value of the foundation’s work and its reputation for integrity was established public support would be forthcoming and others would adopt the same model. Where an ongoing body is needed, members would be replaced one by one to ensure continuity and consistency.

Question 3. Fruitful negotiation, as described in answer to question 1, depends on the negotiators seeing themselves as facing a shared problem. In many cases, although we are used to thinking of interests in terms of oppositions between groups of people who then organise to assert their power against the interests of their enemies or competitors, when it come to specific issues what we find is a bunch of diverse and often conflicting considerations that affect all those involved, though to different degrees. In most such cases, we have to recognise that an adversarial approach is unlikely to reach a decision that will attract wider support. Every effort must be made to produce a decision that is seen by all those most affected as the best that can be achieved in the circumstances.

Question 4. There are two important aspects to this question. First, what reason do we have for thinking that the decisions of such councils would be any better than the decisions of competent bureaucrats, who have more experience and more expertise? Usually in any practical matter there is no uniquely right solution. A decision is to some extent a gamble. It is clearly appropriate that those who are most affected by certain decisions should be those who take responsibility for them. People are rightly resistant to being cast as the guinea pigs on which experts experiment. Even from a pragmatic point of view the success of many decisions is dependent on those involved identifying with their objectives and feeling a certain pride in them as a collective achievement.

Another aspect is the need to get away from the tyranny of monetary considerations. It is very important to know what a particular proposal costs and how that cost relates to the resources available. But it is much more important to have a sound decision on whether or not we are prepared to pay that cost, even if we can. That is something that cannot be reduced to monetary measurement, in spite of the tendency of our politicians and bureaucrats to do just that. There is no substitute for those affected coming to a collective view on what they are prepared to pay for what. It is not rational to settle for getting the most in monetary terms for our investment if that means we forego what we value most. Others can advise and make suggestions, but ultimately we need to choose for ourselves in full knowledge of what we are doing. Ordinary people need to do that all the time in almost every aspect of their lives. Faced with a specific set of problems about an area in which they are involved and having access to what experts can tell them about the matter the decision must be theirs.

Of course, they may be wrong, be misled by fashion, make assumptions that are falsified, fail to make allowance for various unknowns. All authorities are fallible and none has an unquestionable legitimacy. The general considerations of political morality cannot determine legitimacy uniquely, even when there is agreement about them. The particular status of a procedure or an institution is always a matter of convention. New conventions arise about institutions that are seen as effective and salutary, particularly as meeting the need for a way of arriving at a sound choice between alternatives that offer different advantages from different points of view.

Question 5. The legislative and administrative processes would continue to have their present functions, but operate within a different context. At present the main constraint under which legislators and administrators operate is the fear of massive reactions against their decisions or perhaps alienating a key element of their constituency, leading to disruption in the party and defeat at the next election. Parties in power usually overestimate the acceptability of their partisan policies. Unfortunately by the time that strong reactions emerge irreparable damage has often been done. The legislative and administrative organs of government need better information than they can now get on which to base their decisions.

More fundamentally, the reaction to particular measures in the adversarial context of party politics is usually one-sided, largely negative rather than constructive. Off-the-cuff answers to survey questions and unfocussed public discussion are usually clear about what people don’t want, but inevitably vague about what would be preferable. Under the arrangement I am suggesting the process of policy formation would be focused on finding a constructive compromise between conflicting considerations that would greatly reduce the scope for partisan legislative and administrative decisions. Elections might come to focus on what most swinging voters already see as the important question, namely, which of the competing teams is likely to carry out its legislative and administrative duties more competently?

The perspective of public discussion would change from seeing the role of government as shaping society from above to seeing it as providing a range of very diverse services according to the specific character of each. Our very complex societies are constituted by interactions between many different processes, just as our bodily health depends on the nervous, digestive, growth, circulatory and energy control systems, each with its distinctive processes and interdependencies with the others. Most of our social processes operate normally and support each other without conscious intervention, but some of them run into problems that need explicit attention, based on a correct understanding of the way they work.

21 Responses

  1. John,

    I have two big questions….

    1. Why do you say that the council members will be motivated to seek a compromise that is acceptable to the minority, and to public opinion? Why wouldn’t the majority (once they recognize their status) simply vote a one-sided policy through? Would there be a unanimity requirement? Why would they care about public opinion?

    2. How would it be decided what groups or interests were most affected? Take a hard example…. A proposal to expand an airport onto land with special cultural significance to a small group of local farmers. Other nearby land-owners will profit greatly, and the entire population of the state will benefit, but to a small extent for each person. Also some environmentalists who don’t live nearby oppose any further expansion of fossil fuel transportation infrastructure. It seems that the decision of who “those most directly affected by what happens in that sphere” is the decisive decision. This problem is one reason many of us fall back on a random sample of the entire population, rather than picking and choosing based on some questionable criteria of “most directly affected.”


  2. John,

    Following Terry’s point 2 (which I think is correct), I’m concerned by your:

    “Such bodies would be set up in the first instance by a foundation dedicated to identifying issues where better decisions are needed. Such a foundation would design and explain the formula on which a sample affected would be chosen, blind to every other characteristic.”

    This is all rather vague and arrogates huge (albeit non-binding) powers to the foundation. Why should its formula be viewed as legitimate and what would differentiate it from a think tank or pressure group? For politicians to bow to the decisions of the resulting demarchic committees, they will need to have persuaded the majority of voters (who will not have participated in the deliberations). So why do you think voters would choose to authorise the decisions, particularly the “difficult” ones? So although it could work in theory, I don’t see any reason for believing that it would in practice.


  3. Terrry:
    The councils have no power except from convincing public opinion that they are indeed trying to get the best alll-round compromise. All their proceedings would be conducted publicly by blogs. They need to meet only rarely, to get to know each other. If they operated on a winner takes all basis they would be seen as just another partisan think tank and have no chance of succeeding.

    2. Designing the constraints on representation is one of the problems where it would need the experience of a foundation to arrive at a determination in the particular case. Again it would need to be seen generally as fair. Obviously where you have groups like the farmers in your example who have a massively overriding interest, they cannot be allowed to dominate. A great deal depends in any instance on how the questions at issue are framed. With a bit of skill it is,I think, usually possible to make it clear that it is a matter of being fair to the different considerations involved, rather than to distinct groups of individuals.

    We are so used to adversarial politics conceived as a set of zero-sum games that we find it hard to envisage a process of cooperative searching for a fair balance. But surely that is what we all want in our public life. If the farmers do have a situation that isof cultural importance, that doesn’t just matter to them, but to everybody who values cultural diversity.

    Of course, it’s vague. What considerations are relevant and what relative weight is to be attached to them is not something that can be decided apart from specific cases. Even the best public discussion in many such matters is likely to be inconclusive. Unfortunately there is an inbuilt tendency in uncertainty to take refuge in such things as cost-benefit analyses that exclude the unquantifiable factors that are all important. The sort of panel decision that I envisage at least does bring them into prominence.

    THere is an interesting book by Jane Gleeson-White, Six Capitals, or Can Accountants save the Planet?, which traces the history of attempts by accountants to evolve means of taking into account all the things that have no market price. My verdict is that it shows pretty clearly the task is hopeless if it is conceived as finding a common metric for them. There is no substitute for coming to ad hoc agreements about the relative weights we attach to different considerations in different circumstances.


  4. John,

    Granted all that, my scepticism remains regarding a) establishing an impartial foundation to specify the selection criteria and b) convincing the public that the deliberative output of the demarchic committees should be taken as the final word. I can accept that politicians will voluntarily follow public opinion (otherwise they would lose office), but why should the public accept the view of the demarchic committees? They had no role to play in selecting the members and few people will take the time to read all the blogs explaining exactly why the committee decided in the way that it did. In my competing proposal the public elect the advocates and the jury decision would have to be accepted if it were demonstrated that any sample of citizens would have decided in the same way. I don’t understand how demarchy can get round the problem of perceived legitimacy (the sine qua non in a democratic age).


  5. Keith,
    What people accept as authoritative in a particular sphere is a matter of what they see as the established convention. Life goes on through people taking part in the games that are on offer. The great advantage of my proposals is that they can be tried without risking anything or presupposing acceptance of the idea. In the first instance serious opinion will look at the decisions proposed. Only if we come up with sound proposals will people come to see the procedure by which they are arrived at as authoritative. That’s a long shot, of course.

    There is very little interest in having more participation in public life and a lot of people are positively hostile to the self-styled experts like me that they see as trying to push them around. The desire to take a serious active role in such matters is and probably always will be a minority ambition, an object of suspicion to many. It’s all too hard for most of us. Any sensible person knows that they have little chance of having a voice that is significant in deciding any matter of public policy. Some of us do want to be able to take part in focussed debate where we stand a chance of being listened to, and they should like my idea.

    By and large what nearly all of us want most of the time is for such things to be decided in a sensible way that ensures that the relevant consideration have been given a fair run. The present system fails to do that. That’s what I’m offering them!

    We are governed in our thinking by romantic and dangerously unrealistic conceptions of democracy. If you strip away that claptrap people may see what I suggest as the practical way forward, with none of the rigidity of top-down politics. It is a matter of ongoing experiment.

    I came to my view of the practical importance of a foundation because of the work of New Democracy in Sydney. It is the creation of a well-known industrialist and employs a small full-time professional staff. It was inspired by some of my stuff, among others, but set up without any input from me. Among its patrons are several highly respected former State Premiers. It is still in its infancy and working mainly at local council level.


  6. John,

    I forget who raised the Julia Gillard issue recently, but what if your demarchic committee came up with a proposal that suggested the need for a carbon tax? If that was one of the reasons for the ousting of a democratically-elected premier, why do you think that the perceived legitimacy of a demarchic committee that came up with a similarly unpopular policy would serve any better?

    In fact didn’t Gillard suggest a citizen jury on just this topic?

    To my mind the only way this will work is with elected advocates and repeated demonstration that the verdict would be the same, irrespective of who was a member of the allotted jury.


  7. John,
    I agree that some sort of “give-it-a-try-and-see-if-people-like-it” approach makes sense. I just think that people may not trust the pre-judging that goes into picking those with greatest direct interest. Why not run the same model, but use a random sample of the general population that can bring in any directly interested individuals as witnesses. Having disinterested average citizens as judges may enhance the legitimacy in the minds of the public.


  8. > Why not run the same model, but use a random sample of the general population that can bring in any directly interested individuals as witnesses. Having disinterested average citizens as judges may enhance the legitimacy in the minds of the public.

    I support this idea.

    In addition to eliminating the discretion in selecting the pool of candidates, it is best to try to eliminate the discretion in selecting the subject matter handled by the allotted bodies by pre-defining a permanent agenda.

    For example, there could be an anti-corruption agenda, where each year an allotted chamber examines the state of corruption in government (as defined by the chamber itself) and publishes a report together with recommendations for regulations and/or enforcement actions.

    Another example could be a permanent budgetary agenda where the allotted chamber examines income and outlays of government, assesses priorities and makes recommendations.


  9. Terry and Yoram,
    I agree that it is likely that people won’t trust any formula of selection that purports to select a genuine sample of those most affected. On eof the reasons for insisting on the importance of a foundation is the hope that people would come to trust it on its record.
    Indeed many people will distrust decisions that represent those most affected, because they think it is the fault of those people that they need public support. Instead of getting what they want the disadvantaged need to get incentives to pursue what they ought to want, which is what the great majority of solid citizens think is right. There is a certain democratic totalitarian mentality that feeds on a certain illusory conception of freedom. I would fear that where that mentality is common, a body that constituted a random selection of the whole population would probably embody it more or less unconsciously.

    The population that people focus on in our traditions of democracy is always the population of some legal entity that normally trusts everybody impartially, ie the same. “If you don’t like it get out.” This inevitably tends to suppress attention to variety of needs and aspirations within that jurisdiction and refuses to recognise any authority superior to itself or even any share interest that transcends its boundaries. the persistent refusal of the US to acknowledge any such authority that it can’t control is just one example. It is not just a matter of American exceptionalism, but of the logic of sovereignty. Allnational governments are constrained to be chauvinistic when the chips are down.

    The most important questions that face us today are now posed on a global scale, the international financial system, the movement of people and population problems, the environment, the oceans and the control of armaments. I do not believe these problems can be addressed by international treaties between entities that are committed to putting their own interests and aspirations above all others.

    So, both in regard to domestic matters and global matters I want to get away from the traditional nationalist conception of the community. Instead, I want to build ways of our public life functioning not on the traditional model of the human body, but on the model of a global ecosystem made up of a variety of kinds of operations, some global, some very local in scale, interdependent in a host of ways, continually changing and adapting in ways that follow no plan. Of course, our interventions cause problems that must be addressed. The difficulty is finding the appropriate way of respecting the specific character of different kinds of problems. I think it is necessary to start at a relatively local level, and my formale envisage that. The all-important global level is too complex to be encompassed by them or discussed here.

    As for the the matters that can be dealt with relatively locally, the sort of decisions I am looking for are only achievable as a result of genuinely broad public discussion. The function of my councils is to attempt to distill that discussion into a coherent policy. What weight people put on diverse considerations will depend on their particular situation and sensibility. I think that in many matters, particularly concerning such things as health education and welfare, only people who come from within that situation are in a position to craft a policy that is genuinely positive in the eyes of the intended recipients. Not something imposed on them, but something they can love.


  10. Keith
    The Gillard story ahs interesting aspects that re relevant to decion procedures. Under the Howard Liberal Government there was bi-partisan agreement between Labor and the Liberal-National coalition on the introduction of a carbon-trading scheme on the European model, but nothing was actually done. When, after deposing Rudd, Gillard face the electors she explicitly promised a trading scheme, not a flat tax. To form a government it turned our she needed Greens. They refused unless she imposed a carbon tax, believing that issuing licences to pollute is sinful. The public never forgave her for breaking her promise and the opposition found it easier to campaign against tje government by dropping trading schemes as carbon tax lite and proposing to subsidise efforts to reduce pollution, which was little more than handouts to its supporters in business. Both sides ended up with policies that the majority of their supporters rejected. That’s adversarial politics.
    The Libs gained office mainly because Gillard could not overcome the distrust she had engendered and the desperate effort of recalling Rudd was self-condemnation.
    In power the Abbot government acted as if the public had given them a mandate to do whatever they thought fit. That government is now in deep trouble because of that attitude.
    On several occasions Oz politicians have suggested citizen juries to decide contentious matters and have been rebuffed as evading responsibility. The demand has to come from below and be clearly independent of partisan tactics. I think it is very probable that a demarchic body would have endorsed a trading scheme, given the clear tenor of public debate, and they might even have put a realistic price on the licences, which the EU failed to do.


  11. John,

    >One of the reasons for insisting on the importance of a foundation is the hope that people would come to trust it on its record.

    Unfortunately that leaves us with a chicken and egg problem, especially given that elected politicians will only voluntarily defer to overwhelming public opinion, which will depend on the public trusting both the judgment of the demarchic committee and the foundation that set it up. So I don’t see how we can possibly get from where we are now (a tiny think tank that very few people have heard of) to this very high threshold of public confidence. If this is the case, then statutory change would be a prerequisite for the introduction of sortition, hence my concern with the politician-bashing that is the default position on this blog for many contributors.

    >I think that in many matters, particularly concerning such things as health, education and welfare, only people who come from within that situation are in a position to craft a policy that is genuinely positive in the eyes of the intended recipients.

    But with health and education that’s practically everybody, so who are the “people who come from within that situation”? Presumably this is the health workers and the teachers, i.e. the producers, who have a pretty good track record of lobbying for their own interests. If not then you would end up with a sortition pool of the entire population, as everyone is affected by health and education policy.


  12. John,

    Thanks for the clarification on the Australian carbon tax.

    I wonder if allotted bodies would prove self-regulating with regard to popular outrage. After all, they would have to return home to face their friends, family, colleagues, etc. Any popular outrage felt by the public at-large will be shared by the new groups of allotted representatives.They, as a consequence, might be less open to having their views changed by reasoned debate than the previous groups. I don’t know. It feels like we’re brushing up against the limits of what we can predict based on the experiments that have been conducted to date.


  13. Naomi,

    Yes, it could be the worst possible combination — lack of personal accountability (no heads to cut off) but subject to strong pressure to conform to public (non-deliberative) expectations. And if the demarchs chose to resist this pressure (leading, on occasion, to public outrage) then it’s pretty obvious who the politicians would choose to side with — in fact the latter might well prefer to be legally obliged to follow the committee verdict, as then the demarchs could take all the flak for unpopular decisions. Also, given the need for negotiated compromise and lack of party discipline, groupthink would be an ever-present danger (and this would be a bad outcome from both a democratic and an epistemic perspective).

    These doubts over how the committees would function once established have to be added to the fact that it’s hard to see how the initial transition to demarchy could be made without some sort of constitutional revolution.


  14. Keith,

    Sure, but what I was getting at is that striking a balance between popularity and epistemic outcomes is probably necessary. I can’t see a system that focuses purely on policy outcomes with little concern for popular opposition being stable for very long. If an allotted body naturally comes to some sort of agreeable balance, then things are much easier.


  15. Naomi,

    Yes, but isn’t that what elected governments end up doing (more or less)? And they have the advantage of a popular mandate and an accountability mechanism, in that you can kick the rascals out. Not so with a committee of faceless demarchs. The problem with John’s proposal is that elected politicians would claim the credit for popular policies and/or those with benign outcomes (even though they originated in a demarchic think tank), but would blame the demarchs for policy failures (or unpopular policies).


  16. Keith,
    Of course, you are partly right about the chicken and egg problem. Success in my venture is unlikely, but not hopeless. Chickens are bred. Artificial selection can be even more spectacular than natural selection. You don’t have to change the whole population at one go. Stranger things than I am advocating have happened. George III still exercised ultimate power in many matters, but the power of the monarchy has been so stripped away that what is left is th Queen’s Speech in which she pretends to announce to her subjects what her ministers have decided to do on her behalf.

    People love to think both that nothing has really changed and that everything has changed. There are always ways of handling the contradiction eg the significance attributed to the US constitution and to the monarchies in Europe. Unfortunately, something has remained the same, the power of states in an anarchic global economic and social context.

    On your other point, it has so many dimensions that I can’t tackle it here. I hope my coming book helps. Just one point. Modern states have homogenised their populations in the name of equality. In practice in a bureaucratic centralism equality comes down to uniformity. I want to break that up, partly in the interests of internal diversity and partly because we have to face all the most serious problems of our age in a global perspective, not int the perspective of sovereign states, without the nightmare of a single sovereignty at the global level. That involves a radical rethinking of authority that current political discussion refuses to face.

    In my long life I have seen many things change for the better, mainly as a result of a few people pushing what were extreme positions and gradually shifting the parameters of discussion. Think of all the changes in what is generally accepted about racism, sexism, tolerance etc. and the enormous changes from children being expected to follow what their parents prescribed to parents seeing their role as facilitating the children’s reaching their particular potential.
    Our public affairs have been framed in an adversarial structure that suppresses or distorts many issues and results in discussion of specific problems being discussed primarily in their bearing on gaining or keeping political power.
    If discussion of specific matters were focussed on finding the most acceptable compromise between conflicting considerations in that matter, public discussion would be greatly improved. In such a context the prospect of people accepting a solution that had a sound claim to pull together that public discussion would be good. Chickens come first, but their progeny can be bred to improve their performance.


  17. Let’s get back to the question posed in the subject.

    In the UK it’s easy. The House of Commons sits as an ongoing constitutional convention and can change the constitution from one vote to the next.

    In the U.S the question gets more interesting.

    1. Presidency. The Constitution requires that each state select a number of electors, who then cast ballots for president and vice-president, but it does not prevent each state from using sortition or alternating sortition-election to choose the electors, rather than having them named by individual candidates for the job.
    2. U.S. Senate. The 17th Amendment requires popular election of U.S. senators, but does not specify how they might be nominated for a place on the ballot. Alternating sortition-election might be used to nominate two candidates and let the voters choose among them. Of course, the ballots would have to provide for write-ins, and parties could not be prevented from organizing write-in campaigns, or even have their nominees also appear on the ballot as write-ins. But it would likely to be a better strategy for them to get behind one of the sortition-nominated candidates. It would also term-limit members.
    3. U.S. House of Representatives. The Constitution specifies how many each state may select, but does not forbid those selections to be made by some kind of sortition. There is a congressional statute that requires single-member districts, but that would not prevent sortition within each district. It would also term-limit members.
    4. U.S. Judiciary. The Constitution requires federal judges be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, but does not require the to be appointed to any particular court. Appointees could go into a large pool from which some would be selected at random for each court or panel, and each level, circuit, or district could have multiple panels. At the trial level they could be randomly assigned to cases, as they are now.
    5. Prosecutors. The present U.S. attorneys would be renamed “procurators” with responsibility for setting up cases, but the actual prosecutor who would appear in court would be selected by the randomly-selected grand jury.
    6. Administrators, clerks, staffers. Those who assist particular officials might be selected from a randomly selected pool to serve for, say, six years, after which they would be returned to the pool.
    7. State officials. Most state constitutions provide for election but not for nomination or appearance on the official ballot, and as with the U.S. Senate, nomination for the ballot could be by sortition.
    8. Committees, departments, panels. Random selection of members, but also of panels that pose structured questions for other panels, committees, or departments. The strength of sorted panels is in their ability to focus on a structured question, but that would only work if the questions were not loaded by corrupt officials. The solution would be for the questions themselves to be the product of such panels.


  18. Constitutionalism
    Your detailed suggestions of possible changes in US practice that do not involve constitutional change are very interesting. They clearly illustrate the strength of sortition as means of minimising systematic bias in the composition of many public bodies. That is valuable, and ti might even be possible to get a groundswell of public opinion to implement at least some of it.
    What it seems to me to fail to do is produce the sort of focussed debate and decision that gives force to public concerns about matters of policy that I think is most important.
    I am also wary of the concentration on legal procedures at a national or state level in so far as it reinforces the traditional assumption that all real authority is legislative or administrative or judicial authority as embodied in totally independent sovereignty. authority. That assumption leads inexorably to the belief in the need for a world state giving force to the overriding interests of mankind and the global systems which are the basis of life as we have come to construct it.
    Instead of the model of the political sphere as a centrally controlled organism, we need the model of an ecosystem consisting of many localised ecosystems in which particular populations live and change, but also of a number of identifiable global processes on which they depend. The point is that ecosystems do not have purposes. They develop in unplanned ways. But our interventions as unnaturally powerful forces have to be controlled in many respects, or we shall destroy ourselves. That demands much more limited and varied, but still sufficiently effective, sorts of authority than traditional concepts of legality can encompass.


  19. […] How to introduce sortition in policy-making without constitutional change… […]


  20. John Burnheim: “Others, less ideologically committed, are ‘swinging voters’, taking a more pragmatic view of which party to support.”

    The party they favor is “wild.”

    (The proper term is “swing voters.”)


  21. in my 92nd year my eyesight makes both reading an writing very difficult. So just a few points, peremptorily stated.
    What matters most is getting good decisions about such public goods as we need.
    Good decisions are most likely to be the result of practical discusssion among people who have their attention focussed on some particular problems about a particular policy domain.
    What I have always advocated is splitting up policy areas and having a representative sample of those most affected by that policy area, in the light of completely open discussion to which anybody can contribute anonymnoulsly.
    Simpley replacing mass voting by a random sample of the general pop;ulation is likely to improve little. All of us faced with decisions about a huge range of things have to fall back on crude generalisations and assume[topms.

    John Burnheim


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